Grumbling and Rejoicing on the Way

Published: Monday, 12 September 2016

This sermon, given by Geoff Pound at ABC on 11 September 2016, is the eighth in a series entitled, ‘People of the Way’. Notes for personal and group study are posted at this link.

Scripture Reading: Luke 15:1-10 SHEEP GP 0916

15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

15:3 So he told them this parable:

15:4 "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?

15:5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.

15:6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'

15:7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

15:8 "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

15:9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.'

15:10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

I used to think that a good church was a church where everything was calm and peaceful and people were full of sweetness and light. But my view has changed the more I’ve read the Gospel story. For wherever Jesus did his work there was always both great joy and great grumbling.

I wonder if you live or work with someone who is prone to grumbling. They grumble about the weather. They grumble about the traffic. They grumble about the food. They grumble about the footy. They grumble about the politicians.

Can you hear it? The word grumble is onomatopoeic. You can hear its low, dull sound. The word grumble comes from the Middle French grommeler meaning to ‘mutter through your teeth’.[1]

Grumbling is a concern because it’s as contagious as the flu.

Grumbling makes everyone negative.

Grumbling affects the morale.

A quiet grumble soon becomes a thundering rumble.

So Jesus names it to nip it in the bud.

The only positive thing is that it was great grumbling that prompted his telling of today’s superb parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin and what follows, the parable of the lost sons, ‘the greatest short story ever told’.[2]

The Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling, saying:

"This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." (v2)

You can’t blame him. He was just doing his job, for Luke says:

“Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.” (v1)

He attracted the wrong sort of people but when they came near he welcomed them. He didn’t just stand up and drink with them like Italians downing their morning espresso.

He sat down and ate with them. His welcome was so full and expansive that they labeled him, ‘the friend of sinners’.

We can understand the grumbling of the religious because some of us had parents who said: “You are known by the company you keep.”

Some of us had youth leaders in the church who quoted the biblical text: “Come out from among them and be separate.”

Perhaps to hammer home his point Jesus tells in triplicate. There’s an important difference between these first two stories, and it’s not just that in one story there’s a man who lost something and in the other there’s a woman.

The crucial difference is that the sheep is lost because of its own stupidity.

The coin is lost because of the stupidity or carelessness of someone else.

There are lots of examples in everyday life where people go astray because of their willfulness and pigheadedness.

But one only needs to look in the faces of the children pouring out of Syria or the children crossing the Thai-Burmese border to realize that so many are lost because of the selfishness of others.

On this anniversary of America’s 9/11[3] we remember how a day or two after those horrific events, posters and photos appeared with captions like these:

LOST: MY WIFE SUSAN. SHE WORKED ON THE 95TH FLOOR OF TOWER #1

Or underneath the photo:

HAS ANYONE SEEN MY BROTHER MICHAEL?

Or under another image:

OUR DADDY IS MISSING

Today we also remember that other 9/11 in Chile when President Allende was overthrown by army chief Pinochet in 1973.[4]

Order was lost.

The President was lost.

Thousands of sons and daughters were lost—tortured or simply disappeared. We’re thinking of the pain of losing.

Several weeks ago I crossed the Alamein Line and just as I zig-zagged up the path to the Ashburton Station I saw a woman walking slowly towards me. She was scanning the footpath. I said: “Are you OK? You’re looking for something?”

She said, “I’ve lost my diamond on the way to the station.” I said, “That’s no good. What does it look like?” She said: “It’s pear-shaped.”

I joined the search but after a while she said, “Don’t you worry. It could be anywhere between Highgate Grove, High Street and the station.”

I said, “I have an Ashburton Facebook Page[5] and I’m happy to post a notice on it to ask others to join the search.” She said, “I know that page. I’d thought of sending a message to the owner of that site. Fancy meeting you here.”

I got her details and I said, “Do let me know when the diamond is found.”

Have you lost anything lately? Lost your special pen? Lost your keys? Lost your wallet? Lost your pet dog? Would you say that your son or your daughter is lost at the moment?

We know that sinking feeling in our stomach.

How long we keep searching depends on how valuable that item or person is.

The picture we get in these parables is of a searching God, a shepherd who goes up and down the mountains, the God who is a woman who turns her house upside down to find that which is lost.

Let’s ponder the common themes in these two stories:

15:4 "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?

Which one of you?

The answer is probably no one. For who would leave the 99 in the wilderness to fend for themselves against the ravages of the wolves, to search for the one stupid sheep? That’s reckless. Irresponsible. It’s only 1%? Wouldn’t we just cut our losses?

15:8 "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

What woman?

She may search like this but what financial mismanagement to lose one silver coin and then when you find it you throw a party for all your neighbours that might cost you two or three silver coins? It’s ludicrous! It doesn’t add up.

But this is about the lavish grace of God who values every single person. The searching God who never gives up.

Put your highlighter through the word ‘until’.

The shepherd “goes after the one until he finds it.”

“The woman searches carefully until she finds it.”

This is the relentless love that never gives up on us.

George Matheson was engaged to a woman, but before their wedding he started to go blind. At the age of twenty he’d completely lost his sight. If that wasn’t enough of a tragedy, his fiancée broke off their engagement. She said, “I couldn’t go through life married to a man with such a disability”. But in the pain and sadness of his double loss George Matheson wrote one of the great hymns of the church:

O Love that will not let me go

I rest my weary soul in thee

I give thee back the life I owe

That in thine ocean depths its flow

May richer, fuller be.[6]

The extravagant love of God who never lets us go.

Consider another major theme.

One sheep that is lost. One coin that is lost. One sinner that makes an about turn.

In this entertainment age we can be so obsessed with crowds. We report the numbers of people who attend the concert or the game. The TV ratings are recorded. Somehow the individual is lost in the crowd.

Today we’re reminded of the passion of God for one person. For you. For me.

And this is the good news for us—that Jesus is actively seeking us out!

Even in a congregation like this, this morning,

you might be sensing that Jesus has stopped right beside you,

that Jesus is singling you out,

that Jesus is calling you by name,

that Jesus knows what we’re up against,

that Jesus is speaking right to your deepest need,

that Jesus can help us bring about the change we need.

This week we’ve seen Mother Teresa honoured and renamed Saint Teresa. The critics have been swift to bag her for her leadership style, her resistance to birth control and the insufficient hygiene standards in her homes and hospitals and more. The criticism may not be true or fair but it reminds us that the people God uses are not perfect. All believers are saints and we know we’re not perfect.

I wonder if you’ve seen the vibrant communities in India that Teresa inspired. I’ve had the privilege of visiting her homes in Kolkata and seen the love and compassion of her people for the destitute and the dying.

I’ve taken teams of people to volunteer in her homes and we’ve washed and shaved old men and rubbed olive oil into their dry skin.

In the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata you can enter Teresa’s small room. Her sandals are on display with a note saying that every time Mother Teresa put on her sandals she would pray this prayer:

“Of my own free will, dear Jesus, I will follow you, wherever You shall go in search of souls…”

Teresa has been in this great tradition of the searching shepherd, the searching woman and the searching God who values the one who is broken and lost.

Instead of being paralyzed by the crowds and the immensity of the need Teresa said:

I never look at the masses as my responsibility.

I look at the individual. I can only love one person at a time.

I can only feed one person at a time. Just one...so you begin...

Maybe if I didn't pick up that one person I wouldn't have picked up 42,000.

The whole work is only a drop in the ocean.

But if I didn't put the drop in, the ocean would be one drop less."

That shriveled up Albanian woman who worked in Kolkata has done ‘something beautiful for God’.[7] She’s reminded us of the value of one. One sheep. One coin. One person who is lost.

The final note to hear is the sound of rejoicing.

15:5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.

 

15:6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'

 

15:7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

And the second story…

15:9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.'

 

15:10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

What is booming forth in stereo is the cry from a heart that’s broken by lostness and a heart that sings with a full-throated joy when the one person is found.

This is the celebrating God and our joy blends with the jubilation in heaven.

We’re being challenged today to consider whether we are the grumblers who tut-tut and are miffed by the wideness of God’s mercy or whether we’re part of the company who welcomes and eats and rejoices over the one who is found.

And just in case you’re wondering, we found the pear-shaped diamond that was lost, and we rejoiced!

Prayer

We give you thanks shepherding God,

who seeks us out,

who moves us to change direction and become who we most truly are.

We thank you God our searching Mother,

For mercy that reaches out,

For light that uncovers,

For patience that seeks us and waits our return and

For your love that is ever ready to welcome every one.

We thank you Lord Jesus,

for your stories that speak to our deepest needs

For meeting us with grace

For embracing us in acceptance

For eating and befriending us at your table.

In our lostness and light

Help us to accept your forgiveness,

change our minds and

live out your purposes for us,

Through Jesus Christ,

Amen

 


[1] Grumble, Vocabulary.Com

[2] This claim has been made by storytellers, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.

[3] September 11 attacks, Wikipedia.

[4] 1973 Chilean coup d’etat, Wikipedia.

[5] Discovering Ashburton, Facebook Page.

[6] O Love that will not let me go, Dane Ortlund, The Gospel Coalition, 4 August 2010.

[7] The title of the book on Mother Teresa’s life by Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God, HarperOne, 2003.